Bob Dylan enjoys going on a murder spree on his new album, “Tempest.” The killings simply mount up.
In keeping with his mortician-meets-mobster-meets-minister garb, he comes on like some old-time manic street preacher.
Dylan has more to say than ever on the 35th studio LP of his career, released 50 years after his debut.
“A man can’t live by bread alone,” he moans. “I pay with blood but not my own.” The shattered voice sounds less like a cow stuck in an electric fence this time. More like Tom Waits gargling with crushed glass.
A song of lust ends in Shakespearean tragedy: “All three lovers together in a heap, thrown into the grave forever to sleep.” Dylan laments the death of his friend John Lennon, only after gleefully dispatching some of the 1,500 victims of the Titanic in the disaster a century ago.
That’s in the title track, which sprawls over 14 minutes and 45 verses. The skewed parable references Leonardo DiCaprio (whose character quoted Dylan in the 1997 movie: “blowing in the wind” and “when you’ve got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.”)
It’s not a patch on 11-minute epics such as “Desolation Row,” “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” or even “Brownsville Girl.” The content is more akin to “Highlands,” which rambled over 16 minutes with sloppy rhymes and badly needed an editor.
Elsewhere, Dylan joins in the chorus of disapproval at anonymous bankers, politicians and businessman, whom he describes as “lecherous and treacherous,” “sluggers and muggers” and “meddlers and peddlers.” He says “They buy and they sell - - they destroyed your city, they’ll destroy you as well.”
Most people come to Dylan for his lyrics. The closing “Roll on John” just steals lines from the Beatle songs “A Day in the Life,” “Come Together” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”
Dylan is back in his simple mechanical rhyming mode with some snappy couplets. There’s little of the sustained dazzling wordplay of his classics: “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Blood on the Tracks” and “Blonde on Blonde.”
The music, often secondary to the words, is nicely played by Dylan’s regular supporters, much the same as his last few albums: 1920s blues, 1930s folk, 1940s country and 1950s rockabilly. “Early Roman Kings” is a rip-off of the repetitive blues riff on “Mannish Boy”; the title track’s Irish-themed 16 bars go round in circles.
Still, it’s good that, at 71 years of age, Dylan still is writing, touring, recording some fine music, growling away and probably not caring what anyone else thinks.
“Tempest” has more bite than his recent releases such as “Modern Times” and “Time Out of Mind.” This makes it the best since “Desire” way back in 1975.
It’s a shame that it has another dreadful cover design -- so often a Dylan speciality.
The best of this week’s other CDs comes from the U.K. band the xx. “Coexist” is a refinement of the ambient bassy sounds on the group’s Mercury Prize winning debut. It’s downbeat, economical and starkly beautiful. Rating: ****.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
Bob Dylan is on Columbia and the xx on Young Turks, with both CDs priced about $10. Dylan’s CD is also available as a $17 limited-edition version with extra pictures, or a $25 box with vinyl discs. Download fees vary across services. Both are out in the U.S. tomorrow and available in the U.K. today. Information: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/home or http://www.thexx.info.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food and Elin McCoy on wine.